Narendra Modi continued his high profile US tour with a townhall at Facebook’s HQ. He took questions from the audience in a session moderated by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Zuckerberg had earlier posted on his Facebook page saying that he was looking forward to having a conversation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi about what connectivity means for India's future.
The Prime Minister spoke about Facebook’s ambitious Internet.org initiative, which has been getting a lot of negative flak in the country. “Facebook's initiative to connect the world will not be only a way to increase its bank balance but will be a means to become the voice and medium for the aspirations of crores of people. I am very appreciative of it in this respect and I thank you for it,” said the Prime Minister.
Speaking about the plans for the country, the PM said that the focus would be on agriculture, services and manufacturing. “Economically, every institution says that we are the fastest growing economy. My dream is to increase our GDP from $ 8 trillion to 20 trillion,” he told the assembled audience.
Mr Modi further added that the government has managed to win back confidence about India’s economy in the last 25 months. He labeled this the government’s “greatest achievement”.
Calling the minister an “early adopter” of social media, Zuckerberg asked him whether he expected the impact on policy, foreign policy, etc. To this, Modi replied that social media was a “guide” and helped mould his through process. He said that it built a world consciousness and helped accept him for what he was. “I realized that there was a large gap between people and government. By the time one gets to realize this, elections come up! But social media allows for accountability instantly. If governments are alert and conscious about real time accountability, it will be good for democracy. Social media connects people from different countries connect to each other, rather than just the capitals,” he said.
The Co-founder of Babajobs.com asked the PM what forms of investment he was looking for to enable digital infrastructure. Similarly, an audience member asked the PM whether there has been an increased ease in doing business in India since the new government took over. Taking the example of “Make In India”, the audience member asked the PM whether he thought that the initiative would eventually be successful.
Giving the example of the difference in ease of turning a bike and a train, the PM said, “In a large country, the cumulative effect of any change takes time to get noticed. For example, 180 million people didn't have bank accounts. We managed to get bank accounts for them in 100 days, something what was not managed in 40 years. If you see the “Ease of doing Business” survey done by the World Bank, India comes in at 140. We have spoken to the states about removing hurdles in doing business. The states are totally on board and I am sure that we will be ranked much higher than 140 in the future. Even when it comes to “Make In India” there are a lot of possibilities. The FDI from just US has increased by 87 per cent over the last 15 months. Can you imagine that?”
Answering the question about the digital infrastructure, the PM said, “We need both highways and i-ways in India. I want to connect all 6 lakh villages in India via fiber optic cables. People today live in places where infrastructure is present unlike past. Soon we might live in places where there is good digital infrastructure. I don't think there is a shortage of money to invest in the world. I request people to take the example of Vir (of Babajobs.com) and to invest in India.”
The PM also touched upon the topic of women empowerment and said that the economic progress of the country was directly linked to this.